Spiritual food for your faith journey and encouragement for hard times.
Spiritual food for your faith journey and encouragement for hard times.
Ella smiled as our horses rose and sank to the music. The merry-go-round sped up and she hugged the pole tighter, laughing. I started laughing too, but for different reasons. I had asked for the perfect Father’s Day gift.
“What do you want for Father’s Day?” my wife, Shelley, had asked three days before.
The question caught me off guard. I hadn’t even known Father’s Day was imminent. Nothing on the traditional daddy gift list got my blood moving. I only wear ties two or three times a year. All my socks were in good condition. I don’t golf anymore and, thus, have no need for balls. My caffeine fix comes in a 16 oz can of sugar-free Red Bull instead of ceramic cups emblazoned with adorable bon mots. I considered asking for an iPhone before remembering that requests for nonessential tech gifts only played on Christmas.
“I don’t know what I want,” I said at last.
“Really? There’s not anything?”
I looked out the window and saw my children pouring buckets of water onto the chalk-drawings they’d just created on the patio. They argued about whose turn it was to use the bucket as pastel gook covered their bare feet. The scene would devolve into angry cacophony within second unless Shelley or I intervened.
I smiled. “I know exactly what I want,” I said.
I asked for a few hours alone with each of our four children. We have three-year-old quadruplets (all natural, if you’re wondering), and I didn’t know what it was like to spend extended quality time alone with each of them. The best I’d managed so far was a trip to the store or a few minutes reading a book. With four toddlers under the same roof, it’s never long before somebody else needs your attention.
That Saturday morning, Ella was dressed and ready to go before I finished breakfast. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one excited about this. I put her in the car along with the requisite wipes, snacks, liquids, and stuffed animals. On the drive to L.A.’s Griffith Park, we discussed our favorite color, food, song, and animal.
“There’s the zoo!” Ella exclaimed as we passed a familiar stomping ground. “But we’re not going there today,” she said with authority. “We’re going to the merry-go-round.”
When we reached our destination, I unbuckled Ella and we walked toward the merry-go-round hand-in-hand. That’s when the feeling hit me. I noticed it immediately because it was so unfamiliar.
I’m relaxed, I thought. I’m not scanning the area for possible dangers. I’m not making sure I can count four children every thirty seconds. This is so … easy.
I started chuckling. Ella gave me a puzzled smile.
Is this what I think it is? Am I a good father, after all?
Ever since my kids had been born, I felt overwhelmed and incompetent, especially next to my wife who seemed born to raise four children at the same time. I have Attention Deficit Disorder, pretty much the opposite of what you want in a father of multiples. I’d managed to compensate for it with other strengths in almost every area of my life—except for parenting. My self-esteem plummeted fast after I became a father. Today was different. I thanked God for this wonderful feeling.
Then I thanked him for not letting me feel this way all the time.
Before my kids came along, I felt masterful and in control. Others looked to me for help while I rarely asked for theirs. This illusion of invincibility evaporated when my children were born. Life thrust a thousand new duties upon me for which I had little talent and no experience. My Lone Ranger days were over. I had to apologize a lot because I made so many mistakes. I had no choice but to face my flaws and look to others for guidance and support.
Traditionally, fathers teach their children about independence, resourcefulness, and strength. Mom provides nurturance while Dad prepares you for the difficulty of life, right? He’s the guy who picks you up, brushes you off, and sends you back into battle armed with fresh wisdom. Had our children been singletons, I would have been insufferable in this regard. Their father would have taught that any problem could be solved through assertiveness and fortitude. Since I have an ego the size of Canada, my children would have learned little about humility and interdependence. But because God blessed us with all of our children at once, they get to learn something else from their dad: that it’s okay to be weak sometimes.
Nothing has laid my frailty so bare as the demands of raising quadruplets. Thus, I have never had rely on God so much. What a relief that my children see that dependence on God and strong relationships sustain and enrich life. They’ll get my bluster about assertiveness and self-esteem later. I’m glad they’re learning about the blessing of weakness first.
But I still get my Father’s Day present every year. I get to be Super Dad for a weekend. Then Monday morning erupts and I become mortal again. The precious brevity Father’s Day reminds me that fatherhood is a gift, not an accomplishment. I am not strong enough to meet all my children’s needs, but maybe I’m showing them that our heavenly Father can.
Stephen W. Simpson is the author of Assaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic. He lives with his wife, Shelley, and their four children in Southern California. Find out more at www.assaultedbyjoy.com.
Editor's Note: Look for devotions from Ann Spangler's books every week for the next few weeks. Today's devotion is from Praying the Names of Jesus.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28–30).
One of the most winsome promises Jesus made to his followers was the promise of rest. But when was the last time you felt rested? Part of the secret of receiving the rest Jesus speaks of is to be sure that we are wearing the right "yoke." A yoke is an instrument used to harness two animals together so that they can combine their strength to carry a load. Jesus tells us his burden is light not because it is easy but because he is on the other side of the yoke, helping us to serve with his strength. Ask Jesus to free you, his servant, from burdens he does not want you to carry.
If we are honest, we have to admit that there are many things we don’t understand about God, especially in the face of terrible suffering and evil. Chris Wright offers reflections and encouragement from the Scriptures, so that those who are troubled by these tough questions can still sustain their faith.
The God I Don't Understand will be featured in weekly blog posts, chapter by chapter, throughout the spring on Zondervan Academic's Koinonia blog. The blog series began last week. Visit the Koinonia blog every Wednesday to see video clips from the author that introduce each chapter (see today's post). Or you can join the online discussion and see the same video clips on Facebook.
Look Unto Me by Jim Reimann features 366 of Charles Spurgeon’s great classic devotions updated and expanded in today’s language. Jim Reimann is editor of the bestselling updated editions of Streams in the Desert and My Utmost for His Highest. Based on the classic Morning by Morning, the new devotional now includes comments, applications, and prayers developed for today’s reader. More Information.
“Don’t Listen For the Voice of God. Listen for His Echo.”
When God really wants to get your attention, he doesn’t just say something once.
He speaks through a Sunday sermon, a chance conversation with a friend the next day, even a random email. The same theme, idea, impression, or lesson will repeat itself in surprising and unexpected ways until you realize that maybe, just maybe, God is at work.
According to author Margaret Feinberg, the repetitive nature of a sacred echo gives us confidence that God really is prompting, guiding, or leading. The Sacred Echo reminds us to pay close attention – something important may be going on here. The sacred echo challenges us to prayerfully consider how God is at work in our life as well as in the lives of those around us. The sacred echo is an invitation to spiritual awakening.
Margaret writes, “I want a relationship with God where prayer is as natural as breathing. If God is the one in whom we are to live and move and have our being, then I want my every inhale infused with his presence, my every exhale an extension of his love.”
If that’s your desire too, let The Sacred Echo be your guide to a deeper, more rewarding relationship with the God of the universe.
Below is a video clip of Margaret speaking about The Sacred Echo:
It’s a warm, bright morning, and I’m on a daddy-date with my three-year-old son Nicholas. Since we live with my parents, time for just the two of us can be a rare commodity. We head for the donut shop, but since I’m a responsible dad, we split a glazed ring and a large bottle of strawberry milk. I put my feet up on the patio railing and we watch the traffic hum past.
After spending several minutes discussing which birds like to eat our scattered donut crumbs—“Daddy, that bird does, and it’s a really medium size bird!”—I decide to steer the conversation to an important topic: our looming move to Bend, Oregon.
“Nicholas, do you remember that we’re moving?”
“On June 28th!” he replies.
“And where are we going to live?”
“In a new house with Mommy and Daddy and Sam and Nicholas!” he chirps.
I look over at him—skinny, scabby legs swinging beneath his chair, blond hair sticking up, a pink mustache painted across his upper lip—and I feel an ache inside me at what we’re asking him to do. Moving is hard. Nicholas will miss his Santa Barbara routine, and he’ll have a Grandparent-shaped hole in his heart that visits won’t entirely fill. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be uprooted, and to struggle to replant.
As Nicholas gets older, I feel like there’s more and more to protect him from, yet I seem less and less able to. Taking care of his infant brother Sam involves nothing more complicated than feeding, burping, smiling, and preventing gross bodily harm.
But Nicholas, at age three, is already complicated. He has real emotions and deals with genuinely traumatic events. His feelings are hurt when kids at the playground take his toy, or won’t let him take theirs. He gets angry with us sometimes; he experiences moments of sadness that, no matter how silly they seem to us, are real to him.
None of these, I’m learning, are things I can protect him from. Even if I could, I know I shouldn’t, not if he is going to develop into a healthy young man. And so it occurred to me that maybe ‘protection’ is the wrong ‘P’ word. Maybe the right one is ‘preparation’.
This reminds me of the way Jesus treated his friends—Peter and Martha and John and all the rest. He could have snapped his fingers and given each of them an honor-guard of angels to protect them until death. He could have whisked his followers off to heaven in a fiery, super-size chariot, sparing them painful lives and violent deaths.
But his usual method seems to have been to tell them what to expect, and then help them as it happened. Look, you’re going to have trouble—that’s life. But take heart—there are still reasons for us to hope!
Outside the donut shop, I smile at my boy. He looks at me, which I interpret as permission to continue. “There’ll be some hard parts of moving, buddy, and some things that are different about living in Oregon. Nana and Papa won’t live with us anymore, and you’ll have a new preschool and a new church. But Mommy and I love you so much and we’ll always be there for you.”
With all my heart I will him to feel some of my confidence, some of my love. He smiles back at me, and I relax, grateful that we’ve had a meaningful heart-to-heart, at least until I hear his next words.
“But Daddy?” Nicholas looks intense. “I think that tiny little bird eating our crumbs is a hawk.”
I guess the future comes to everyone at different speeds. Each of us needs the time—the hours, days, or sometimes years—to make our own particular peace with it. And maybe one of the best gifts that fathers can give is the gift of preparation. They can look ahead and tell us what’s coming—and promise that they’ll walk beside us for as long as it takes to get there.
David Jacobsen is the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood.. He and his wife, Christine, are currently trying to fit their belongings into a seventeen-foot moving truck while keeping Sam, age 2 months, and Nicholas, age 3 years, content. If you know any good pre-schools or Mexican restaurants in Bend, Oregon, be sure to let them know at www.davidjacobsen.net.
Rich Wagner, author of The Expeditionary Man: The Adventure a Man Wants, the Leader His Family Needs, is embarking on a cross-country bike tour with his family on June 28th. The Expeditionary Man focuses on how a man discovers his true adventure and purpose, not out in the world, but by becoming the hands-on leader of his family. As a result, a transcontinental, family-oriented bike tour seemed like the right combination for Rich. It symbolizes a true adventure, a unified family, and a common biblical purpose.
Rich and his family invite you to join them for the duration of the tour on www.WhyTheBike.com. Each day, they will be updating their tour blog with videos, pictures, and interesting stories of adventure from the road. And, if you are in any of the route cities they are passing through, they’d love to stop and talk with you.
As a Christian man, how do you prioritize between what you are driven to do at work and church with what you are responsible for at home? In The Expeditionary Man: The Adventure a Man Wants, the Leader His Family Needs Rich Wagner debunks the myth of a “balanced life” and shares a biblical model of putting everything but family on the back burner.
Whether it is social injustice, AIDS, bad preaching, or wrecked marriages, what breaks the heart of someone who loves God most likely breaks God’s heart too—and it is often these “firestorms of frustration” that God will use to enlist you in setting what is wrong in this world right!
Zondervan is pleased to announce the launch of www.MyHolyDiscontent.org, a website that provides you with resources to discover your "holy discontent." Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision by Bill Hybels invites you to consider the dramatic impact your life will have when you allow your holy discontent to fuel instead of frustrate you.
www.MyHolyDiscontent.org features seven videos of Bill Hybels speaking about the importance of finding your holy discontent. Below is one of the seven life-changing videos you will find on www.MyHolyDiscontent.org:
Here are two great opportunities to learn how the church can better engage the world as Jesus did in the battle against AIDS.
Global Summit on AIDS & The Church, November 28-30, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California. From the Website: “What is faith without action? This summit will provide you with the information and tools you need to discover how your congregation, organization, or agency can start to make a positive change.” Speakers include Rick Warren, Kay Warren, John Ortberg, John Thomas, Lynne Hybels, Dennis Rainey, Bruce Sonnenberg, and Her Excellency, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda.
HIV/AIDS Youth Summit, a free event (for those with CCN satellite equipment) put on by CCN. From the Website: The world has never seen a greater humanitarian crisis than the current AIDS pandemic. But the world has also never seen a generation of students like today’s teenagers!” Speakers include Rick Warren, Kay Warren, Jenna Bush, and Francis Chan.